Conflicts are often started by the utilization of labels. By labeling a certain person or calling them a name it is essentially grouping them into a larger idea or force. In the film Empire of the Sun directed by Steven Spielberg and the novel When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka the main characters struggle with identifying which side of World War II they are supposed to be aligned with. The protagonists from both of the works experience a moment where the line between good and bad is extremely thin. Both Jamie and the family are forced to question their allegiances in World War II.
Jamie Graham was born into an opulent English family with many privileges. He and his family have many servants and live a luxurious life in the Shanghai International Settlement. Jamie is very conflicted in which side of the war he wants to support because of his multicultural upbringing as a British youth in Shanghai. One instance where Jamie supports a different side than expected is when he talks to his father in the beginning of the film. Jamie tells his father that when he grows up he wants to be an airplane pilot for the Japanese.
Jamie doesn’t completely understand the reality of the war; he admired the Japanese but did not fully understand their plans for the world. The idea of glory and fighting makes Jamie overlook the atrocity of war and how millions die. Another instance where Jamie supports a different side than expected is when he is on the American side the of the fence and sees the Japanese Kamikaze pilots prepare to go into their planes on the other side Overcome with emotion and respect Jamie begins to sing the welsh lullaby “Suo Gan” while saluting the men. This is n extremely moving and powerful scene of the movie because when he sing this all the Japanese Pilots on the opposite side of the fence stop to listen.
This shows how Jamie is a dynamic character and has matured from the beginning of the film. Even though he wants the Americans to win in the war he still acknowledges the bravery of the man. He sees no difference between races and nationalities. Instead, Jamie chooses to see the value of a human life and shows respect to the men who are about to give their lives for the sake of their country. The two instances show that Jamie’s loyalty shifts throughout the film.
The family in the novel gets persecuted by the United States Government for being Japanese and living in America. Families like the one in the book who can call multiple countries home often have trouble identifying which side to support during war. One instance of this is when the boy is told never to mention the emperor’s name, “But sometimes it slipped out anyway. Hirohito, Hirohito, Hirohito. He said it quietly. Quickly. He whispered it. “(41). The boy is very conflicted because growing up he was raised with Japanese influences, but as he transitions into the camp he is told to show no allegiance to Japan.
The American Government forbids the Japanese-Americans from saying the emperors name in order to shun him. By tarnishing the emperor’s image in the US, the government essentially strips the emperor of his divine status. One other instance is when army recruiters arrived at the camp. They gave everyone over the age of 17 a loyalty questionnaire. When the mother is filling her questionnaire out she runs into a question asking her to denounce any loyalties she has with Japan, “She did not want to be sent back to Japan. There’s no future for us there. We’re here. Your father’s here. The most important thing is that we stay together. “(70).
Even though the mother wants to return to Japan she knows she must stay in America. In America her children have more opportunities to succeed and thrive. Having a good environment for her children to grow up in is more important to the mother than choosing a side to support. In the confusion of, war sides often forget the main reason they are fighting in the first place.
This also applies to civilians, as war wages on some people do not identify with a certain side because society rejects them. In both “Empire of the Sun” and “When the Emperor was Divine” there are moments in time where the characters overlook the fact of racism and choose to see the value in human happiness and life. Today discrimination is still present and from these two works humans should learn to be more accepting of race and gender. People must be more confident in what they identify as and should not meet the expectations of society in exchange for concealing their beliefs.